Updated: May 21, 2015
Chichen Itza Ruins - Mexico:Chichen Itza is an incredible Mayan city located between Cancun and Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula. It takes about 2-3 hours on the toll highway to reach Chichen Itza from Cancun. There are dozens of tours that operate out of the Cancun and Playa Del Carmen regions that will take you on an air conditioned bus to the ruins of Chichen Itza and supply you with a guided tour of the grounds. Chichen Itza covers 4 square miles and was a thriving Mayan community from 700AD to 900AD. On a recent vacation to Cancun with my wife we decided to make a day of it and venture off to Chichen Itza. We were certainly not disappointed in the least and consider the highlight of the trip. You can spend hours on site with so much to see with historical significance. The weather can be extremely warm in the jungles of the Yucatan, so be prepared with sunblock, plenty of water, and even an umbrella to keep the sweltering heat off of you. Most of the buildings and artifacts are exposed and there is little shade. I was there in October and the crowds seemed reasonable.
We took a guided group tour of Chichen Itza (about $50) and that included a nice buffet lunch on the way back in a small town. Our guide was of Spanish decent but spoke fairly good English. The tour was about 1 1/2 hours of our guide taking us around to the more famous sections of Chichen Itza and then we had another 1 1/2 to 2 hours to walk around by ourselves or eat something. We have heard that going early in the morning is the best time since all the tourists haven't arrived yet from Cancun. There is even an evening light show (costs extra) that we were unable to stay for. Many visitors to Chichen Itza decide to stay the night in a nearby hotel and get up early the next day to be one of the first ones into the ruins so they can take pictures and see the Pyramid of Kukulkan without tons of people standing on it. We have listed some hotels down below for you to look into if that is what you want to do. There is lots of history behind the Chichen Itza ruins so definitely read up on them a bit before you visit. The main highlights within Chichen Itza are El Castillo, The Temple of the Warriors, The Observatory, The Nunnery, The Ball Court, and Cenote.
The most popular site to see is El Castillo, or the Pyramid of Kukulkan. El Castillo stands 79 feet high and is impressive from the bottom, but once you make the trek to the top, you will be amazed with the view. When we visited our guide said the Mexican authorities were considering not allowing people to walk to the top anymore since the decay and overall abuse of the pyramid was slowly ruining it. We found more than one person at the top overlooking the edge (no ropes or protective barriers) wondering how they would get back down. It's always easier going up something this steep than it is going down (be forewarned). The Temple of the Warriors is near the Temple of the Jaguar and combines a temple structure that is surrounded by 100's of columns that go off into the nearby jungle. The Ball Court at Chichen Itza is another superb example of their architectural genius. The 545 foot by 225 foot ballcourt is where they played games. Lastly, the Sacred Cenote is off the main trail but still worth viewing. It's a natural sinkhole in the limestone that goes into an underwater river system. The Mayans used this as a source of water and as a sacrificial or ceremonial area for throwing victims into the cenote. Take your time as you walk around the grounds and be sure to have your digital camera for pictures.
Chichen Itza Maps and Directions:Getting to Chichen Itza isn't that hard as most tourists from Cancun take toll highway 180 all the way out there. The map below shows the vicinity of Chichen Itza (basically in the middle) with respect to Cancun, Merida, and Tulum to the southeast.
If you are more adventurous and want to keep your own schedule, then consider renting a car from Playa Del Carmen or Cancun. It's an easy drive along Hwy 180 and that way you can stay the night near Chichen Itza and be able to get into the ruins bright and early before the crowds arrive. Again, the drive from Cancun is no more than 3 hours (more like 2 1/2 hours) and the roads are pretty empty compared to our busy freeway systems in America. Make sure you have plenty of gas before leaving Cancun since gas stations are not that common along the way. There are signs as you approach the main site of Chichen Itza that will guide you to the ruins. There is a good map of the Chichen Itza ruins HERE.
Entrance Fees and Operating Hours:Chichen Itza is open 7 days a week from 8 AM to 5 PM. Adult tickets are around $9 and children under 13 and seniors over 60 are free. The Chichen Itza Light & Sound Show starts at about 7 PM and last roughly 1 hour. There is a separate charge for the light show from the main entrance fee. Last we checked it was 35 pesos which is not even $5. At the entrance you will find the visitors complex with a souvenir shop, museum, restrooms, and a cafeteria. On a hot day the ice-cream vendor has long lines. You can get a map of the ruins as well as see a model sized layout. We recommend getting there as early as possible to avoid lines and large crowds.
Chichen Itza Tours:Guided tours of Chichen Itza are what the majority of tourists do from places like Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. We strongly suggest you consider this option, but at the same time if you have read up on the ruins and want to be on your own schedule don't shy away from a self-guided tour. The ruins are easy to navigate and we honestly feel like our guided tour was "just ok". Much of the information we were told we had already read in our guidebook which left us wanting more from the guide. He did have some tidbits of information that were interesting, but overall we felt the guide could have done a better job. In terms of what Chichen Itza tour company to go with, there are dozens that go each day to the ruins. We found some excellent reviews of tour guides online in the forums at Tripadvisor.com. Just look up "Chichen Itza Tours" in their forums and you will bring up plenty of consumer opinions and feedback on different tour companies.
Chichen Itza Hotels:Seeing Chichen Itza in the early morning hours without the crowds is something everyone should shoot for. Unfortunately, there is no way to do this without staying at a nearby hotel since no tour buses reach Chichen Itza until mid morning. Your best option is to rent a car in Cancun and plan on staying overnight at one of the hotels listed below so that you can get up the next morning and enter the ruins before all the buses and cars arrive. There are not a lot of choices when it comes to staying near Chichen Itza, but we have listed the 3 per Tripadvisor.com (a very reputable site for travelers).
- Hacienda Chichen Resort - Steps to Chichen Itza. 28 Rooms. Priced around $120/night. You can find them online HERE
- Villas Arqueologicas - Has some family rooms. 40 Rooms total. $50/night. No website found.
- Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows - 55 Rooms and 5 Suites. $120/night. Great location. Website located HERE